Just about everyone has told at least one little white lie in his or her lifetime. Many of us tell them all the time without even realizing it. For instance, anytime someone asks you if they look fat or saying yes to a second cup of coffee just to be polite. The Collins English Dictionary defines a little white lie as, “a minor or unimportant lie, esp one uttered in the interests of tact or politeness.” Even experts are divided about when, if ever, it’s okay to tell a white lie but we can all agree it’s a slippery slope from politeness to deception.
You may remember the Seinfeld episode where George declared, “It’s not a lie if you believe it.” There really is an episode for every occasion! Then we’ve got Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness“. In real life, former Spokane NAACP president, Rachel Dolezal, has certainly taken that concept to the next level! For that matter, so has Brian Williams, who will be returning to television after the controversy over his on-air faulty memory issue. These examples have gone well beyond the little white lie but they highlight the murkiness of truth telling.
White lie in minutes
According to The NY Times, “Research shows that on average in an ordinary conversation, people lie two to three times every 10 minutes.” The rules, and moral dilemmas, tend to be different depending on who you’re dealing with. Parents are constantly struggling with how much truth to tell their kids. And what about relationships? Then we go to work with an entirely different mindset.
It’s true that very young kids have a limited ability to understand certain things, and most moms would go nuts if they didn’t resort to bending the truth now and then. Parents usually know what their kids are ready to hear. If you start using little whites as a crutch to avoid explaining things or for control, you may want to take a step back and reconsider your truth boundaries. The last thing you want is for your offspring to grow up thinking it’s okay to lie to get their way.
Most experts agree that telling a little white lie now and then in friendships and romantic relationships is essential. You know when bending the truth is required. Most questions about appearance or pretending you love gifts or food your loved one has made for you. But beyond that, truth is essential or you will begin to erode trust in your relationships.
When it comes to the office, the occasional little white lie may be a necessary form of diplomacy. Some experts even recommend, not outright lying about your age, but if you’re over 37 you may want to make your age a little less obvious on your resume. Ageism is an unfortunate problem for job seekers, especially in this tight market. It’s also usually okay—sometimes essential—to fib when the boss asks your opinion on his or her personal appearance. Sometimes you also have to take one for the team and help out a coworker by keeping quiet about small mistakes.